Los Angeles. Early 1984.
Margaret holds her hand out, palm up, to Devil Don, who is seated on a folding chair amidst a group of females. “I’m taking the children shopping while you two rehearse with the band. Give me your wallet.”
Devil Don looks right and left and addresses the Handmaidens surrounding his chair. “Did she ask Baby Boy Phil for money?” They nod in unison, and several say that they heard Margaret do so. Devil Don pulls his wallet from his hip pocket and hands it to one of the women.
Margaret continues to address Devil Don directly. “Yes, I did ask, and I already have money from your brother. And this two hundred and forty dollars of yours”—she points at the wallet that she has not yet touched—“will not be sufficient. I’ll have to use my credit cards, so you need to write a check to reimburse me. I want it now,” she concludes, snatching the wallet from the Handmaiden.
Devil Don signals a different Handmaiden, who produces his checkbook. Another kneels beside him, offering her back as a writing support.
“You can just leave the amount blank. I’ll fill it in later,” Margaret instructs.
Devil Don addresses a woman massaging his back. “Tell that harridan”—he pauses to count the children, pointing his pen at each one of them—“she can have a check for eight hundred dollars, or she can just not have a check from me at all.”
Margaret attempts to moderate her voice to denote hurt feelings. She does not succeed. “Don’t you trust your own mother?”
“Don’t bother replying to her, Ladies. She knows better than to ask something so silly.”
But Margaret continues to address her elder son. “Thank God I have one decent son, because if it weren’t for your talent and your good looks and your hard work and the money you earn, YOU would be a total loss to me. Give me that check,” she demands.
Devil Don hands the check to a woman who is nibbling his ear, who momentarily holds it just out of Margaret’s reach before handing it over.
“Look at you, I am going to take a photo for the family scrapbook, and you have that stupid rag around your head. Go find your brother and get dressed alike.”
Margaret turns and walks away, picking up a drumstick from the kit at the rear of the stage. She begins directing her grandchildren to positions at the front. “You holding the guitar, come here to me.”
A smiling boy of perhaps thirteen steps up to face her, and Margaret beams at him, placing her hand under his chin and turning his face left and right. “What’s your name, Sweetikins?” she coos.
“Adam? Speak distinctly.”
Argon speaks distinctly. “My name is Argon. A-r-g-o-n. Argon. It’s the third most plentiful gas in Earth’s atmosphere.”
Margaret frowns. “Who’s your father?”
Margaret withdraws her hand, waving at the boy in dismissal just as St. Phil walks up to join her. Using the drumstick, she points to the five female children, one at a time. “These girls look like prostitutes.”
“They’ll all Donald’s, Mama.”
“Figures. Okay, each of you will stand on the spot I indicate. We’ll use this as a ‘before’ photo, and we can take an improved version when we get back from shopping. Everyone remember your position.” DaStinky, who has eight three-inch strips of adhesive tape attached to his Keith Richards tee-shirt, moves quickly to place them on the spots Margaret indicates with the drumstick.
Margaret continues positioning the girls, but she addresses St. Phil. “So don’t you have anything to show for yourself?” She taps St. Phil’s fly with the drumstick.
“Yes, Mama, the two blond boys are mine.” St. Phil indicates that they should step forward. “This is my oldest, Will—”
“TWINS! How wonderful!”
“Mama, William is sixteen, and Joseph is nine. They don’t even have the same mother.”
“If I wanted to know about their mothers, I would have gone to your weddings.”
“Yes, Mama. But they’re not—”
Margaret looks up into St. Phil’s eyes. St. Phil takes a step backward and coughs very softly.
Margaret continues, addressing the group with a wide smile. “Now, the twins will ride in Grandma’s car, and the strange children will not. It’s Grandma’s treat, and Grandma’s taking everyone shopping at Nudie’s.”
Anxiety floods St. Phil’s face. “Mama, they don’t need performance costumes.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
Thinking quickly, St. Phil decides to change the subject. “Do you want me to introduce you to Donald’s children? I know them all. That’s Vanitya in the middle, and the one she’s talking to is Alba. The one is front of her is Tatiana, and—”
Margaret interrupts. “Why don’t you just write down the names and ages of all the kids for me. Put in notes so I can tell those girls apart—you know, “brunette with too much makeup,” “trashy bleached blonde”—that sort of thing. That way, when the pictures come back, I can label them.”
St. Phil looks around the stage. “Could someone bring me a piece of paper?” he pleads, pulling a crayon from his jacket pocket. No one moves. Devil Don turns and signals one of his Handmaidens, who then steps forward with a thin notebook, holding it between two fingers and at arm’s length as she walks it over to St. Phil.
Eventually, the brothers join their gaggle of offspring. They have not “dressed alike.”
Margaret takes her “before” photo and directs the children to the doorway where the trembling Mr. DaStinky stands waiting. She then reaches up to pat St. Phil on the head, relieves him of the notebook, and hands him the drumstick.
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An hour into rehearsal, Devil Don calls a break and seats himself near a table holding a coffee urn. He gestures to St. Phil, who was heading the other direction. “How much money did Mama take off you?”
“Two hundred forty dollars.”
“Exactly? Are you sure?”
“Yeah. She had DaStinky let her into your room while you were in the shower, and she took two hundred and forty dollars from your wallet and brought it to me, saying you were sharing it. I counted it, and before I could put it in my wallet, she said she needed money for shopping. So I just gave her that money.”
“O-ka-ay,” Devil Don begins slowly, “So then she took the other two hundred and forty from my wallet, plus my check for eight hundred, and went shopping for WHAT?”
“I am not sure what. Why don’t you ask her?”
“Because, as you well know, I have not spoken to her in at least seven years, and I don’t plan to ever speak to her again. And don’t change the subject. What is she out there buying with more than a thousand dollars of my money?”
“Wait a minute. She got two hundred and forty dollars from me. And only two of those eight kids are mine, anyway.”
Devil Don rolls his eyes and lets out a sigh. A Handmaiden begins massaging his temples.
After another hour of rehearsal, the show seems ready for the upcoming tour. The musicians are discussing some details and preparing to disperse as Margaret returns with her grandchildren.
William and Joseph are wearing fresh-looking, impeccably tailored matching tuxedoes with rosebud boutonnieres. Margaret smiles triumphantly and announces that “the twins are going to need some of those fancy new guitars I saw earlier.”
Argon and the girls are wearing secondhand choir robes, and each is carrying a worn tambourine and a plastic tulip. Tatiana’s and Alba’s robes are four inches above their knees. Margaret’s eyes widen.
“Taters! Albania! Come here immediately, you two,” Margaret demands.
Vanitya laughs. “Told ya you wouldn’t get away with it!”
Devil Don and the Handmaidens suppress their giggles and exchange knowing looks as Margaret mutters the words “slut” and “b-girl” and rips out the Scotch-tape hems so that the sisters’ robes fall well below their knees.
Margaret’s eyes now pan the group until all are silent and looking to her for direction.“Now, we will all take our places again for a nice family picture.”
“Mama,” St. Phil begins confidently, “I think we should reverse the order here, on account of in the picture, I’ll end up on the right, which is Donald’s side, and—.”
Margaret glares at St. Phil.
“—and, and, and never mind,” St. Phil finishes in a whisper. “It’s not important, I’m sure.”
Margaret snaps her picture and hands her camera to her new assistant, Mr. DaStinky, who hands over her purse and then stands at attention. Margaret ignores him, and he gradually allows his saluting hand to fall to his side.
Striding across the stage, Margaret opens her handbag with a flourish and withdraws some bills, which she delivers to St. Phil. “Here’s two hundred dollars back for you, Honey. Your mama is such a frugal shopper that she didn’t even need all that money you gave her.”
And with that, Margaret leaves, DaStinky in tow.